[This is the 15th post in a series abstracted from Jefferson’s famous “My Head and My Heart” dialogue written to Maria Cosway. This is part of Heart’s final reply.]
Heart: A few facts .. to prove to you that nature has not organized you [Head] for our moral direction. When the poor wearied souldier whom we overtook at Chickahomony with his pack on his back, begged us to let him get up behind our chariot, you began to calculate that the road was full of souldiers, & that if all should be taken up our horses would fail in their journey. We drove on therefore. But soon becoming sensible you had made me do wrong, that tho we cannot relieve all the distressed we should relieve as many as we can, I turned about to take up the souldier; but he had entered a bye path, & was no more to be found; & from that moment to this I could never find him out to ask his forgiveness.
Again, when the poor woman came to ask a charity in Philadelphia, you whispered that she looked like a drunkard, & that half a dollar was enough to give her for the ale-house. Those who want [lack] the dispositions to give, easily find reasons why they ought not to give. When I sought her out afterwards, & did what I should have done at first, you know that she employed the money immediately towards placing her child at school.
To Maria Cosway, October 12, 1786
Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Generous leaders listen to their hearts, not their heads.
These two examples are straightforward. In each, with a moral dilemma presented, Jefferson’s Head prevailed at first, with reasons not to help or to do so only sparingly. His Heart later asserted control and tried to rectify the wrongs. One could be corrected. For the other, the opportunity was lost.
1. In the first paragraph, Head reasoned that because they could not help everyone, they should help no one. Heart countered, that even though they could not help everyone, they had a moral obligation to help as many as they could.
2. In the second paragraph, Heart notes that selfish people (“who want [lack] the dispositions to give”) have no trouble justifying their actions (will “easily find reasons why they ought not to give”).